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«Wait Until Midnight», Amanda Quick

PROLOGUE

Lute in the reign of Queen Victoria ....

 

Astonishing Exhibition of Psychical Powers

By Gilbert Otford Correspondent

Flying Intelligencer

Mrs. Fordyce, the noted author, recently gave a thrilling demonstration of psychical powers before a small, private audience composed entirely of ladies.

Those who attended described a compelling scene. The room was darkened in a most dramatic fashion. Mrs. Fordyce was seated alone at a table that was illuminated by a single lamp. From that position, she proceeded to answer questions and make observations of a most personal nature about many of those present.

Following the exhibition, it was generally agreed that only the possession of the most extraordinary psychical gifts could account for Mrs. Fordyce's uncanny ability to respond correctly to the inquiries put to her. The startling accuracy of her remarks about those in the room with whom she had not been previously acquainted left a marked impression.

Mrs. Fordyce was afterward besieged by requests for sГ©ances and sittings. It was also suggested that she apply to Mr. Reed, the president of the Society for Psychical Investigations, for permission to be tested at Wintersett House, the headquarters of the Society. She refused all such invitations, making it plain that there will be no more demonstrations or exhibitions of her abilities.

It is commonly held among those who study such phenomena that the use of psychical talents places considerable stress on the nerves, which, as nature has ordained, are far more fragile in women than they are in men.

Mr. Reed told this correspondent that a concern for the health of her nerves is only one reason why a female practitioner would be hesitant to conduct demonstrations. He explained that the innate delicacy of feeling and desire for modesty that is the hallmark of a true lady ensures that any woman possessed of both genuine psychical abilities and a fine sense of the proprieties will be extremely resistant to the notion of exhibiting her powers in any public setting.

ONE

The face of the dead medium was a ghostly blur beneath the bloodstained wedding veil.

In life, she had been quite pretty. The long, heavy skirts of a dark blue gown were crumpled around shapely legs clad in white stockings. The iron poker that had been used to crush the back of her skull had been dropped nearby.

Adam Hardesty moved across the small, shadowy room, willing himself to push through the invisible barrier created by the peculiar scent and chill of death. He crouched beside the body and held the candle aloft.

Through the gossamer veil, he saw the glitter of the blue heads that trimmed the necklace around Elizabeth Delmont's throat. A matching pair of earrings dangled from her ears. On the floor next to her pale, lifeless fingers was a broken pocket watch. The glass had been shattered, the hands forever locked at midnight.

Removing his own watch from the pocket of his trousers, he checked the time. Two-ten. If the timepiece on the carpet had, in fact, been smashed in the course of the violent struggle that appeared to have taken place in the chamber, Delmont had been murdered a little more than two hours earlier.

A mourning brooch decorated with black enamel rested on the tightly laced, stiffly shaped bodice of the blue gown. The brooch looked as if it had been deliberately positioned on Delmont's bosom in a grim parody of funereal respect.

He picked up the brooch and turned it over to look at the reverse side. The flickering candle illuminated a small photograph: a portrait of a fair-haired woman dressed in a wedding veil and a white gown. The lady appeared to be no more than eighteen or nineteen. Something about the sad, resigned expression on her beautiful, unsmiling face gave the impression that she was not looking forward to married life. Under the picture, a lock of tightly coiled blond hair was secured beneath a beveled crystal.

He studied the woman in the photograph for a long moment, memorizing every detail visible in the tiny picture. When he was finished, he carefully repositioned the brooch on Delmont's bodice. The police might find it a useful clue.

Rising, he turned slowly on his heel to survey the room in which Elizabeth Delmont had been killed. The space looked as if a violent storm had blown through it, leaving a trail of wreckage to mark its path. The large table in the center was overturned, revealing an odd mechanism underneath. Delmont had no doubt employed the concealed apparatus to cause the heavy wooden object to float and tilt in midair. Gullible sitters took such activities as a sign that spirits were present.


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